Brave New World

Published in Dawn  photo by Shabbir Hussain Imam

In Olaf Caroe’s The Pathans, one passage, reheated and served to foreign audiences again and again, reads,

There arose one of those strange and formidable insurrections among the Pathans which from time to time sweep across the Frontier mountains like a forest fire, carrying all before them. As on a previous occasion there followed a reaction, but the fire is not wholly put out. It continues to smoulder dully until a fresh wind blows.

As with many of our colonizers, Governor Caroe’s words have survived him. We enter a world of exotic warrior races running down the mountain every five minutes, to be beaten back by ‘reaction’ – because it makes for better writing to say the fire was put out, than to describe an alien empire that crushed the rebels and brought in black laws to keep them crushed.

Yet the state keeps reading its Caroes and Kiplings, if only because a new generation of brown sahibs has learned to love its ex-abusers.

Consider: this country has called itself a republic for sixty-one years, and a free state for seventy. Yet we continue to call over 27,000 square kilometers of it the ‘Federally Administered Tribal Areas’. And we continue to call what governs it the Frontier Crimes Regulation, a law every bit as cruel and stupid as it sounds.

The FCR has been going strong since 1901; its Collective Responsibility Clause a throwback to the good old days when British colonels would round up every Afridi tribesman they saw, sell their cattle, and blockade them from trade. We saw the modern version in action last September: ten-year-old Iqtidar was thrown behind bars – by the grace of the same clause – after a bomb blast in Landi Kotal. He was released a week ago.

Then there’s the darkest parts of the state itself: FC personnel opening fire in Parachinar; Raja Pervaiz Ashraf plowing billions from the FATA budget into his own constituencies; the Muslim League weighing Hazara votes heavier than fundamental rights.

Why we continue the crimes of our colonial overlords is because we view FATA the same way they did: the British thought it a buffer zone against the Russians, we thought it a testing site for the Soviets.

Nor is it coincidence that the same place still be thought fair game for Great Games. Drones continue to roar overhead, via video game joysticks in Virgina. ‘As a military person,’ one of General Stanley McChrystal’s advisers told The New Yorker some years ago, ‘I put myself in the shoes of someone in FATA and there’s something about pilotless drones that doesn’t strike me as an honorable way of warfare.’ This is yet more Caroe-ism: romantic notions of tribal honour aside, the gentleman should have realized it doesn’t strike anyone as legal, lawful, or humane either. Yet why should anyone listen: ever the playground for proxy wars, FATA has been allowed to burn by default.

Only, this can’t go on. Our latest fight – against maniacs and militants – was for the soul of this country, and it is no coincidence it was fought in Waziristan.

Which brings us to the business of reform. At every step, the state has preferred the path of least resistance: we think that by handing Torkham to the Levies, we’ll pave the way for proper police control. We think that by having political agents nominate ‘councilors’, local bodies will thrive. We think that by taking some of the wheels off the FCR and calling it different names (jirgas, qazis, the Nizam-e-Adl Act, the Rewaj Act), the rule of law will reign supreme.

And that’s without starting on the spoilers: Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, part of a proud tradition of far-right flamethrowers. These gents have taken a wrecking ball to the federation ever since we had a federation: the JI opposed independence. The Ahrar brought Punjab to collapse. Munawar denied our martyred fallen. And now the JUI-F does its best to disenfranchise the already disenfranchised.

Done right though, FATA could well see the greatest constitutional reforms since the creation of this country. That’s because extending basic citizenship rights to millions of people, as columnist Umair Javed rightly said, ‘hasn’t happened since decolonization did that for “settled” provinces.’ Even the most major reforms – the disbanding of One Unit, the 1973 Constitution – all ‘fine-tuned existing citizenship rights. FATA’s merger will give citizenship.’

That can only happen one way: FATA’s merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa proper, anything less be damned.

That means dismantling the political agent and his creatures, complete electoral integration and party-based elections, real local bodies, Levies brought into the fold of the provincial police, protections for women from swara and honor crimes, and the Peshawar High Court (and not the Islamabad High Court) coming to the fore.

At 70, Pakistan can yet march to what this paper calls a brave new world – and the FATA reforms are the shortest way there.